Archive for October 2nd, 2013

oba the last samurai poster

Aka Battle Of The Pacific

The tide of war has turned in the Pacific Campaign and the Japanese are being pushed back by the Allies. On the island of Saipan, the Americans are leading a charge that has seen numerous victories for them. In a last push by the Japanese to retake the island on July 7th 1944, there is a large attack nicknamed the ‘banzai charge’ which results in 4,000 Japanese and 2,000 American soldiers being killed. Captain Sakae Oba who takes part in the attack miraculously survives. He retreats into the jungles around Mt Tapochou which has a commanding view of the island where he leads a bunch of soldiers in guerrilla warfare against the Americans. Their task is made harder as there’s a small community of Japanese civilians they have to protect. Colonel Pollard of the US Army declares that Saipan has been successfully liberated from the Japanese but that is far from being true as Oba’s tactics begin to frustrate him. Captain Herman Lewis is asked to try and flush him out as he is fluent in Japanese. He admires Oba’s skills and understands Japanese culture and philosophy as he spent 2 years living in Japan. As the war in the Pacific comes to an end in August 1945, Oba who by now is nicknamed ‘The Fox’ and his forces refuses to surrender and vow to fight on. Will he come to his senses and admit that there’s no point in fighting anymore or will they carry on resisting the Americans even though hostilities are over?

Based on a true story, the antics of Captain Sakae Oba have become legendary in Japan where his guerrilla warfare tactics frustrated the Americans on the island of Saipan for 18 months in 1944/45 until he and his troops officially surrendered in December 1945, 3 months after the war had ended. This isn’t a movie where it shows the American army as being villains against the heroic Japanese army, there is a nice balance showing both sides of the conflict in the story which I liked. This has been done before by Clint Eastwood but he split the story up into 2 separate movies. This being a Japanese movie it does portray some of the Americans are being somewhat racist especially Captain Lewis’ superior officer who doesn’t really care about the explanation why the Japanese fight to the death and never surrender.  Thankfully though, the character of Captain Lewis played by Sean McGowan is there to act as the sympathetic gaijin who respects Captain Oba. It could be that director Hideyuki Hirayama had one eye on the foreign market with this movie which is why there is so many Americans in the movie and they wanted Lewis’ character to understand and speak fluent Japanese so he could act as a go-between between the US Army and Oba. The cinematography is great but the movie wasn’t shot in Saipan or even in Japan at all but in Thailand. The jungle locations are beautiful and are used effectively in the hit and run battles that Oba employs against the Americans. As with most movies that deal with historical events, the story here isn’t 100% accurate. I think this movie might have been better had the American perspective been reduced or even taken out of the movie so that it focuses completely on the story of Captain Oba.

Oba-_The_Last_Samurai screenshot

The performance of most of the cast is rather good. I’m expecting that some of you out there may be expecting me to criticise the Western actors but for a change they perform adequately. It perhaps helps that the 3 main English parts were given to recognisable Hollywood names. OK, fair enough they may not be the A-list of Hollywood but Daniel Baldwin is probably known to a lot of people given that he comes from a famous family.  Yutaka Takenouchi is fantastic as Captain Oba and it’s obvious he took the role seriously as he slimmed down considerably to look the part of an emaciated soldier after months of hardened fighting in the jungle and whose steadfast mentality that his men will eventually win the battle of Saipan never waivers even though he probably knows deep down that the situation is hopeless. Oba isn’t a soldier by trade, he’s a geography teacher. He goes by the samurai philosophy that it would be better to die than surrender to the enemy – this was the Japanese military mentality at the time. Some of the movie focuses on Oba’s decisions and his leadership. Although some of his troops do not necessarily agree with his actions, the decisions he makes turns out to be correct. Oba didn’t have a choice but to do this. He had no superior officers to call upon as they had killed themselves and no way of contacting anybody outside the island. The only other cast member that stood out for me was the lovely Mao Inoue who plays a nurse called Aono who harbours a deep hatred towards the Americans as they killed her family whilst they were all sheltering in a cave. For most of the movie the only thing she wants to do is kill the Americans though she softens up a bit at the end when she sees an American nurse looking after a Japanese baby boy at a hospital who was discovered in an abandoned house.

I really liked this movie. It had a storyline that I found interesting and compelling with a powerful performance by Takenouchi as Oba. Definitely worth checking out.

Sadako’s Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

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Lupin III live dvd

Lupin The Third is a playboy/thief who’s always one step ahead of the law. He sets about rescuing a beautiful woman he becomes infatuated with during a ride in his car. She is on her way to prison in a police van. He succeeds in breaking her out of prison at night but discovers she’s just a cunning thief like him who goes by the name of Fujiko Mine. After she tells him how much she likes gemstones he agrees to help her out in a heist as he believes he’ll have a chance to seduce her in the meantime! A mysterious man Jigen comes onto the scene and wants to restore the Lupin Empire and the fortune that comes with it but finds that Lupin isn’t interested as he can take what he wants anytime he feels like it but what he wants more than anything is getting laid! He lives a carefree lifestyle. Lupin manages to make the yakuza angry by stealing a precious statue that may have supernatural powers and they set out to kill him. Inspector Zenigata is charged with bringing Lupin to justice though he has as much luck in doing that as the yakuza does in trying to assassinate him. Nevertheless Lupin turns himself in to the cops in order to think about his next move.

I had no idea that a live action movie of Lupin III had been made in Japan. I love the Lupin III anime movies so I was interested to see how Lupin’s antics would transfer over to live-action. I wasn’t expecting such a camp and wacky movie which is very OTT but it is in line with the style of the anime. I’ve seen one person mention it to be like the Peter Sellers Pink Panther movies. The story serves as an introduction to Lupin and how he first met Fujiko and Jigen. The only other regular character from Lupin’s gang who is missing from this movie is the samurai Goemon. I’m not sure if this movie bombed on it’s release in Japan as there hasn’t been another live action movie featuring Lupin since but there are rumours of a movie being released in 2014 with Shun Oguri in the lead role as Lupin. No official announcement has been made yet.

Lupin III live screenshot

Any pretence that this was going to be a serious movie is shot down during the first scene. Despite the silliness that’s abound with this movie (and believe me it does get incredibly silly at times!), I did find myself laughing during several scenes. It’s not a perfect comedy movie by any means – sometimes it works well, at other times it fails. You would be hard not to think that this movie is like a real-life cartoon as it has that feel to it in certain scenes i.e a person gets flattened literally by a door or Lupin is able to jump tall walls. There’s even a weird scene that I never saw coming which sees a troupe of women assassins dressed as nuns that strip off into black top/hot pants and suddenly burst into a song and dance routine!

Don’t try and make any sense of logic with the plot otherwise your brain will fry. The movie is just an excuse for a barrage of chase scenes with a couple being speeded up a-la Benny Hill and gags galore. If you’re wondering about the title of the movie it doesn’t have any meaning at all to the story. It sounds like it’s just been made up to confuse viewers! Those expecting Lupin to look like his anime counterpart will be disappointed. Yûki Meguro doesn’t come close to looking like Lupin and the clothes I usually associate with the character is different too. Lupin wears a white outfit and black scarf combo. Thankfully though Lupin’s perverted personality is exactly the same but Meguro feels the need to exaggerate wildly with his acting in this movie. The same could be said about Hideko Ezaki who might not be as busty as the Fujiko from the anime we know but she certainly brings a lot of sex appeal to her role. She nails Fujiko’s personality so well who uses her feminine wiles and Lupin’s lust to get him to do what she wants. It’s probably Inspector Zenigata who comes off the worst in this movie. He’s a rather weak character who acts like a complete prat. He’s much better in the anime. The character of Jigen isn’t as cool either.

Overall, this is a bit of a strange movie. I think it was a mistake to make this movie as outrageously OTT as it was and felt it was aimed more for kids at times but obviously it wasn’t as there’s too much sexual content for them. It’s still a fun movie though. I am sure though that hardcore fans of Lupin’s adventures will be split down the middle whether they like it or not. Give it a go and see what you think.

Sadako’s Rating: 3 stars out of 5

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